COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 2:10 “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 2:13-14)
There is a certain manner to Apostolic writing. It reflects both the mind and heart of the Lord. It is HOW the Holy Spirit directed them to write – how He tutored them to view the people of God. Two things are accentuated again and again. First, that the saints are themselves the result of Divine working. Second, that they were not passive in this work, but were noted for an appropriate response. These two realities are never to be taken for granted, or allowed to placed into the background of our thinking. If we view the people of God according to the flesh – which view is not allowed (2 Cor 5:16) – we will not give thanks to God for what He has done in them. Also, we will not give due honor to them for responding to the Gospel of Christ. In neglecting these two pillars of reason, we push people into the realm of flesh and blood. We cannot edify them if we do not see them as the work of God and those who have responded to the Gospel of Christ. Even when they are deficient, due consideration of these things will assist us in bringing them back where they belong. The text before us is a most notable one. It captures the essence of WHY we are the children of God, declaring His preeminence, HOW He has implemented His choice, and WHY we He has called us.
WE ARE BOUND TO GIVE THANKS
“ 13a But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord . . . ” Other versions read, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord,” NASB “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord,” NIV “But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord,” NRSV “But it is right for us to give praise to God at all times for you.” BBE
BOUND TO GIVE THANKS. This is an unusually strong affirmation. It speaks of something that Paul and his co-laborers were “bound,” or obligated, to do. It was something they “should” do, “ought always” to do, and “must” do. The obligation was not just to give thanks, but to give thanks at all times for the Thessalonian brethren. It was not that God had issued a commandment from heaven that they do so. Jesus did command His disciples to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12). He did not command them to give thanks for one another. Those who must have a “thus saith the Lord” for everything they do will not find one concerning this obligation. What is it that placed this responsibility upon Paul and those who labored with him? And, is it something that is placed upon us as well?
There is a higher motivation that law – even Divine law! In Christ Jesus, men and women are moved, yea compelled, by an even greater principle than a commandment. Briefly summarized, that obligating principle is perception, or spiritual understanding. It is a large branch on the tree of faith, and moves people to do what they would not, and could not, otherwise do. For example, “For Christ's love compels us” NIV (2 Cor 5:14). Other versions say “constraineth us,” KJV “controls us,” NASB and “urges us on.” NRSV It is not the fact of Christ’s love for us, but the perception of it that is such a powerfully moving factor. When a soul sees this (1 John 3:16), a determination to continue on takes hold on the individual. The goal is seen as obtainable, and finishing the race as something within our grasp.
In our text, the thing perceived is the working of the Lord in the Thessalonians. They were not seen as faithful institutional supporters, or those who had adopted the party line. They were seen as God’s own “workmanship” (Eph 2:10). Such a perception caused the fountain of thanksgiving to erupt – “thanks always.” Those who know the Lord are aware that He is under no moral obligation to treat sinners so graciously. There is no code of law that moved God to so work in men that they were delivered from the ultimate oppressor, and joined to the ultimate Savior. He was moved by His own nature – His “great love” (Eph 2:4). Jesus taught us that thanks is not given for fulfilling a duty. In a parable of the dealings of the Master with His servants, Jesus said, “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?” (Lk 17:9). While God is certainly not a slave to us, our dealings with Him are on this same principle. We do not give thanks to God for doing something He was required to do. It is because of His grace and love that we thank Him – because in spite of our miserable condition, He raised us from death in trespasses and sins, moving us into the Kingdom of His own Son, because He wanted to (Eph 2:1-3; Col 1:12).
In the case of the Thessalonians, they had excelled as believers. They received the Word of God “in much affliction,” and “welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” NIV (1 Thess 1:6). They became “examples” to other believers (1 Thess 1:7), receiving the Word “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13). Though Satan resisted them, they overcome him. Though he sought to hinder them, they pressed on, showing the purity of their hearts and the strength of their faith. Seeing this, Paul says, “we are BOUND to give thanks.” Bound by their perception of the working of the Lord. Among other things, this confirms that God’s works – all of them – are designed to bring praise to Him. As it is written, “He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered” (Psa 111:4). If this is true of creation, and of His care for Israel, how much more is it true of those who are being conformed to the image of His Son – His own “workmanship.”
BRETHREN BELOVED. It is good when the brethren of Christ are precious to us – when they are our “beloved brethren” (1 Cor 15:58; James 1:16; Rom 16:8). But here, thanks is given to the Lord because the Thessalonians are “beloved of the Lord,” or “brothers loved by the Lord.” NIV Paul knew they were loved by the Lord because of the outstanding spiritual qualities that were found in them. They had, for example, been “taught by God to love one another” NKJV (1 Thess 4:9). Therefore, this is not a reference to the mythical generic love of God: i.e., “God loves everyone.” Jesus promised the Father would love the person who loved Him (John 14:21,23). That love evidences itself in spiritual progress, determination, and fruit bearing within the one who is loved. Thus, growing disciples are people who are “beloved of God.” Thanks is given to God because of what He is doing within them.
DIVINE CHOOSING IMPLEMENTED THROUGH MEANS
“ 13b . . . because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Here is a most profound statement. It has occasioned unending disputes among those professing to be in Christ, but that was certainly not the intention for the statement. Here Paul accounts for the salvation of those who are in Christ Jesus. He is not speaking of those who are not in the Son, and care must be taken not to use these words to develop strange and harmful doctrines. Because “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), “belongs to the Lord” (Psa 3:8), and will finally be ascribed to God and the Lamb in its totality (Rev 7:10), it must be traced back to Him in all of its details.
FROM THE BEGINNING. There are some variant readings of this text. Some consider “the beginning” to refer to the Thessalonians as the first, or beginning, converts, in that region. Thus certain versions read, “God chose you as the first fruits,” NRSV,NAB “God hath chosen you firstfruits,” DOUAY and “God chose you to be among the first.” NLT While this is a refreshing idea, and is elsewhere suggested (i.e., “Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ,” Rom 16:5), that is not the meaning of this expression. That is not a large enough reason to give thanks “always.” It is too regional to fit into the theme of this passage.
This phraseology is not strange to the people of God. The “mystery” unraveled by the preaching of the Gospel was hid by God “from the beginning of the world” (Eph 3:9). It was “in the beginning” that God “laid the foundation of the earth” (Heb 1:10). The idea here is that all of God’s salvational purposes for humanity were determined before man was created. God has saved us in strict accord with “His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9). Eternal life was promised “before the world began” (Tit 1:2). Those in Christ were “chosen in Him before the world began” (Eph 1:4). “The beginning,” therefore, relates to the point at which all of God’s purposes began to be revealed – the creation of the world. The point is that all of God’s creating and sustaining work is calculated to implement the purposes He had already determined. That is why they cannot be frustrated.
CHOSEN YOU TO SALVATION. This is no lifeless doctrine. The focus of God has always been the salvation of men. Salvation from the fall. Salvation from the power of the devil and the reign of death. But it is preeminently salvation TO God, eternal life, and a reign with Jesus, that is the objective of God’s choice. And be sure, this is a Divine choice. Believers are told, God has “chosen us” in Christ (Eph 1:4). He has “chosen” men to be good soldiers (2 Tim 2:4). He has “chosen the poor of this world” (James 2:5), and the saints of God are a “chosen generation” (1 Pet 2:9). That is why believers are called “the elect” (Mk 13:22; Col 3:12; 2 John 1) and “the election” (Rom 11:7). For this reason, they are said to have been “predestinated” (Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:5,11).
This is not an empty choice, but one “unto salvation.” The chosen ones are revealed in the working of salvation in them. Their separation from the world and quest to obtain the prize is the evidence of the choosing in question. Those with no interest in salvation should not speak a single word about anyone being chosen by God, for God chooses in order that salvation may be realized by the chosen ones.
THROUGH SANCTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT. The appointment of God is more specifically defined here. He did not merely choose who would be saved, but HOW they would be saved. First, it is through “the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” NIV He convicts the sinner (John 16:8-11), enables us to obey (1 Pet 1:2), and produces proper responses with us (Rom 15:13; 14:17). The Holy Spirit plays a dominant role in our cleansing, sanctification, and justification (1 Cor 6:11). He even distributes, and administers, appropriate gifts to those who are “added to the church” (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor 12:4,7). If those who trod under foot the Son of God have “done despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:23), then those who believe on, and honor the Son have, in fact, been “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” There is no salvation without the Spirit’s work, and there is effective salvation where He does work.
THROUGH BELIEF OF THE TRUTH. If those who receive not the love of truth will be condemned, then those receiving that love, and consequently believing the truth, will be saved. That is the means God has appointed through which His choice is implemented. Believing the truth is not merely intellectual. “With the heart believes” (Rom 10:10). Believing the truth moves the individual to obey it. It compels such an one to separate from anything and everything that conflicts with the truth. “The truth” is what comes from God. Everything else is ultimately from the wicked one. There is no salvation apart from believing the truth, election or not. The choice of God, therefore, is that we be saved “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” NKJV Where these are evidenced, thanks is given to God!
CALLED THROUGH THE GOSPEL TO OBTAIN GLORY
“ 14 Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With great care, the Spirit moves Paul to precisely represent the wonderful salvation of God. Men are prone to oversimplify or overly complicate this “great salvation,” thereby putting it beyond the reach of men. Let it be clear, our text is not calling upon us to trust in the choice God made, but in the God who makes the choice! We are not to focus upon the choice He did make, but upon the means through which it is being implemented.
CALLED. First, it is God Himself who calls, or summons us, to come to Him. Just as surely as Jesus “called His disciples” to Himself (Matt 15:32), just that surely God calls us to Himself. To “call” is to summon, invite, or ask for. It is for God to make us aware that He desires us to be with Him, and participate in the good things He offers. He calls us “to be saints” (Rom 1:7). He “calls” us to enjoy His peace (Col 3:15). He “calls” us to “His kingdom and glory” (1 Thess 2:12). He draws men through His call (John 6:44). He communicates with their hearts, giving them a sense of His Person and desire for them.
BY OUR GOSPEL. This is not a mystical call, rooted in human intuition. The call comes through a message – the proclamation of good news. His power and influence travels with the Gospel, through which “the arm of the Lord” is “revealed” (Isa 53:1; John 12:38). Where the Gospel is not declared, the call is not issued!
By saying “our Gospel,” Paul shows how closely it was knit with his own spirit. He had embraced it, and his thoughts were in harmony with it. Yet, more is involved in this expression than that. Paul is not pointing to what he felt, or even what he believed. He is referring to what he declared, for a Gospel that is not declared does not belong to the person professing it. It was what Paul preached – the Gospel – that was used of God to call the Thessalonians to Himself. It is the Gospel that makes known that men can be “partakers of the promise in Christ” (Eph 3:6). It is the Gospel that announces God’s Word endures forever, yet is addressed to men who are as the grass of the field (1 Pet 1:23-25). It is “through the Gospel” that men are “begotten” (1 Cor 4:15). It is “the Gospel” that brings “life and immortality” to light, providing an understanding of them (2 Tim 1:10). The “righteousness” that comes from God through faith is manifested through the Gospel (Rom 1:17; Phil 3:9). Jesus Himself is the heart of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). The Gospel proclaims both His Person, His accomplishments, what He is doing currently, what that He will come again. God calls men to Himself by that Gospel. He has chosen to call men in this manner “from the beginning.” You must see how serious it is to fail to “preach the Gospel.”
TO OBTAIN GLORY. Here is the revealed reason for the call of God: “to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now God gives us His own righteousness. But it is in order that might share in Christ’s own glory: “the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is involved in the marvelous affirmation, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:4). It is also the objective of God, His predetermined purpose that we be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). Surely we have been called “into His kingdom and glory” NIV (1 Thess 2:12). We have been called TO another place, another state, and another time! This world is not our home, and thus we are “strangers and pilgrims” in it (1 Pet 2:11). We are being prepared to “dwell in the house of the Lord” eternally, and to “inquire in His temple” (Psa 27:4). Jesus wants us to be with Him, where He is (John 14:3; 17:24). The Father Himself desires to dwell with us, and Himself be personally with us in an unhindered way (2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3).
In its intended fulness, salvation is “with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:20). This is the predestinated culmination of God’s work in His children: “whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom 8:30). This is when we will “shine forth as the sun” in the Kingdom of our Father (Matt 13:43). It is when death will be “swallowed up in victory,” death will lose its “sting,” and the grave will lose its “victory” (1 Cor 15:54-56). This is when we will “reign with” and be “joint heirs” together with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17). All of this, and more, is involved in what it means “to obtain glory.”
In view of this revealed purpose, it is indeed strange that so very little is being said about “glory” to the people of God. Precious few professed believers know why God has “called” them. Some imagine it is so they will be happy in this world, or have harmonious homes and unparalleled health and wealth. Still others are told it is so they can win souls, or correct social ills. All of these distorted emphases are inexcusable. God has spoken on this subject, and that with great clarity. The Gospel He has given to men announces these things, and that with power. It is up to us to first embrace, and then proclaim, that good news with love and joy.